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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Do Genetics Affect How Our Bodies Fight COVID-19?

This scanning electron microscope image shows the novel coronavirus (round blue objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab.
This scanning electron microscope image shows the novel coronavirus (round blue objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab.

The Mountain West News Bureau is taking questions from listeners across the region about the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have a question, email us at mountainwestnewsbureau@gmail.com or give us a call at 208-352-2079 and leave us a message. This service is powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

A listener wants to know what role genetics play in how well our body fights off the novel coronavirus.

A recent study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Virology suggests that they might.

Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University and the Portland VA Research Foundation focused on genetic variations in human leukocyte antigens, or HLAs, which essentially act as a cell's alarm system.

When COVID-19 first takes over a cell, it's invisible to the rest of the body. But then HLA molecules will help grab pieces of that virus and push them out of the cell, where the body will say, "What's that? We have a problem."

But here's the rub: Some people's HLA types grab more chunks of the virus than others, according to study co-author Reid Thompson

"We suspect that those differences in people could give rise to a better or worse capacity to handle things, at least in the early phases of infection," he says. 

There are thousands of different HLA types and scientists haven't been able to analyze enough data to understand which ones make us more susceptible to the virus' ravaging effects. 

"In my dream world, we would be doing HLA testing right alongside of COVID testing so that we'd have a better, quick study of how this genetic variability could be modifying disease," Thompson says. "But we don't have that data yet."

Read the full study here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Nate is UM School of Journalism reporter. He reads the news on Montana Public Radio three nights a week.
Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau based at Yellowstone Public Radio. He earned an M.A. in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism in 2016 and interned at NPR’s Morning Edition in 2014. In a prior life, he toured around the country in a band, lived in Texas for a spell, and once tried unsuccessfully to fly fish. You can reach Nate at nate@ypradio.org.
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